Scott McKenzie, whose hit single ‘San Francisco’ captured spirit of 1960s, dies at 73


Scott McKenzie, center, poses with "The Mamas And The Papas" in London in 1967. From left to right are Denny Doherty, Michele Gillian, Scott McKenzie, Cass Elliott and John Phillips. (WORTH/AP)
August 21, 2012

Scott McKenzie, whose 1967 hit single “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” captured the spirit of the ’60s flower-power movement and became a generational touchstone, died Aug. 18 at his home in Silver Lake, Calif. He was 73.

The death was confirmed by Matt Pook, a friend and neighbor. A statement on Mr. McKenzie’s Web site said he had been ill with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease affecting the nervous system.

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” Mr. McKenzie gently sang in his biggest hit, written by his friend John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas.

Phillips was inspired to write the song by the large influx of young people to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and by the “gentleness and the love that he felt in the hippie movement,” said Lou Adler, whose Ode Records released “San Francisco.”

“San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” which was released in May 1967, rose to No. 4 on the Billboard chart and became a No. 1 hit in the United Kingdom and most of Europe.

Mr. McKenzie had a minor hit with the Phillips-written “Like an Old Time Movie.” But, according to his Web site, he “dropped out” in the late 1960s and moved to Joshua Tree in 1970 and later moved to Virginia Beach.

Born Philip Blondheim on Jan. 10, 1939, in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., Mr. McKenzie developed an interest in singing and playing guitar as a teenager in the mid-1950s. He was singing in a vocal group when he met Phillips in Alexandria.

They formed a quartet called the Abstracts, which became the Smoothies in 1959. After recording a few pop singles, Mr. McKenzie and Phillips formed a folk trio with Dick Weissman called the Journeymen, which recorded for Capitol Records in the early 1960s.

Mr. McKenzie reportedly turned down an opportunity to join the Mamas & the Papas in the ’60s, preferring to attempt a solo career.

But in the late 1980s, when original member Denny Doherty left the new version of the group he and Phillips had formed, Mr. McKenzie replaced Doherty.

Mr. McKenzie co-wrote the Beach Boys’ 1988 No. 1 hit “Kokomo” with Phillips, Mike Love and Terry Melcher.

When Phillips left the Mamas & the Papas for health reasons in the early 1990s, Doherty returned to the group and Mr. McKenzie took over for Phillips. Phillips died in 2001 and Doherty in 2007.

Mr. McKenzie toured with the Mamas & the Papas through much of the ’90s and thereafter performed occasionally, according to his Web site.

He had no immediate surviving family members.

— Los Angeles Times

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